PM pledges safer roads

One day after a speeding truck hit a school coach on a highway in central Greece, killing seven teenaged pupils, Premier Costas Karamanlis promised action yesterday to improve road safety. Following a session of the Inner Cabinet in light of Monday’s crash, Karamanlis expressed sorrow at what he called «a tragedy that deeply shook all Greeks.» «Unfortunately, every year thousands of people are killed and injured in road accidents,» the prime minister said. «A small town perishes on the tarmac. In every civilized country, road safety is a basic element of the quality of life. Above all, this is a responsibility for the State. But it is also a matter of social culture and mentality.» In Monday’s accident, a truck loaded with glass panels that was heading toward Thessaloniki at nearly twice the 50-kilometer-per-hour speed limit slewed into an oncoming coach carrying 37 schoolchildren from the village of Farkadona, near Trikala, and four teachers on their way to attend Paralympic sports events in Athens. Apart from the seven dead, thirty pupils and teachers were hurt, three seriously, but not with life-threatening injuries. Karamanlis promised an «all-embracing policy» against road accidents, which would start with upgrading the state of the highway network at as fast a pace as possible. Furthermore, policing will become tougher, particularly at spots known to be dangerous – such as the section of the Athens-to-Thessaloniki national highway between Aghios Constantinos and Kamena Vourla where the schoolchildren were killed. In that area, the road has only one lane on either side, and no central barrier. Surveillance cameras will also be set up at dangerous spots, while the Public Order Ministry will draw up a plan on forming a special highway traffic police force. And, according to Karamanlis, penalties for breaches of the highway code will become stricter, while in the case of heavy vehicles, the owners will be penalized as well as the drivers and tougher checks will be adopted for drivers’ qualifications. Meanwhile, Education Minister Marietta Giannakou denied that the ministry, which provided state schools with 50,000 free Paralympics tickets to encourage attendance at the Games, had instructed provincial schools to make trips to Athens. She said the offer only applied to schools in Athens and Piraeus.

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